WASHINGTON - Recent superpower summitry in Bali was not about breakthroughs or agreements, but about two leaders getting together and talking, said Milken Institute’s Asia chairman Curtis Chin.
“No one gave up anything, but for me, it was respectful - and right there, that’s a positive thing,” Mr Chin, a former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, told The Straits Times on the latest Asian Insider podcast.
The closely watched meeting in Bali on Nov 14 between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden was their first, in-person meeting since Mr Biden became President – and at a time of new low in the relationship.
The two leaders agreed to restore dialogue across a broad front, which had been suspended by China following a visit to Taiwan by the outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in August, which China saw as provocative.
In Bali, President Biden reiterated that the United States does not seek conflict with China.
With Republicans having a slim majority in the US House of Representatives following the midterm elections, the reality is that there are few differences between either party in the US on China, Mr Chin said.
“We may well have the next Speaker travel to Taiwan,” he said.
Leading up to the 2024 presidential election, the Republicans may choose to use their slim majority in the House to criticise Mr Biden simply to hurt his re-election chances, should he decide to run again.
Speaking alongside Mr Chin, Mr Murray Hiebert, a senior associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and also head of research at consultancy Bower Group Asia, cautioned that Congress could pass the Taiwan Policy Act.
The Act would in effect raise the status of Taiwan –which has so far not been treated by the US as an independent entity but under its “one-China” policy - as part of China.
Passage of the act will again irritate Beijing, Mr Hiebert said.
“It calls for increasing security assistance to Taiwan in case of Chinese aggression against Taiwan. It calls for sanctioning Chinese officials and banking institutions,” he noted.
In the midst of this competition between superpowers, South-east Asian countries are nervous – but they are also being wooed by each side.
“South-east Asians (are) very anxious…(and) Asean officials have constantly been reminding the two superpowers that they really would like to not see any military action,” Mr Hiebert said.
“They don’t want to see a bifurcation of the economies, either. They’re very worried that with the US stopping sending semiconductors, China’s going to go off in its own direction, and then we’re going to have two digital worlds,” he said.
“So they would really like to see the two superpowers cooperating much more, although they recognise why there is tension.”